Saturday, December 31, 2011

A New Year and a Fresh Start

A New Year is here. 2012. To me, a new year means a new beginning and a fresh start. Most years, I make the usual new year's resolution of losing weight to fit into my favorite jeans. And some years, I just have to start life ALL over!

When I was about 1 and a half to 2 years into my widowhood, I began to accept the death of my first husband and had to begin making new plans for a new future as a single mom. This was not as simple as going on a diet to lose a few pounds or making a goal to go on an exotic vacation. This was a life-changing, earth-moving, role transformation, that I did not sign up for!

About that time, there was a program at the local college for newly divorced women and widows called, "Fresh Start Program". It helped show me opportunities and options for my future plans. And with God's help, I pursued and conquered all of my dreams and goals. I raised my daughters on my own, (with God's help) and put myself through college to earn a master's degree. My daughters are now adults, living on their own, and I'm pursuing my second career in social work.

So this new year is not only about losing a few pounds but it's also about a fresh start in my life to make more dreams and goals come true. For Christmas, my darling daughter, gave me a Groupon, for a Tandem Skydiving Session! YIKES!! Now I love rollar coasters and motorcycling riding, but....SKYDIVING???? My friend, Trish, says,"Oh, do it, and then check it off your bucket list!"

A bucket list, hmmmm...... I've worked hard for many years. It's time to have more future fun which includes traveling to fun and exciting places. So I'm deciding to make my bucket list and the kick off will be skydiving in the spring! It will be my new and fresh start to the New Year and my future years. After all, I don't think I can fit my 10 top trips (Paris, Italy, Hawaii, California, NY, LV, PR, Bahamas, Key West and a Carribean Cruise) all into one year!

So 2012 is here! A New Year! A new beginning! A fresh start! So, no matter where you are on the life cycle, it's time to plan for the future. Is it time to plan your bucket list? Or is it time to restructure your life and start fresh again? Oh, and it's a good idea to pray about these things. If it's in God's plan, too, you'll have much better results. Trust me on this one!!!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

How I was lifted from Sorrow and found Peace

                                                                       Foot-
                                                              Prints
                                                           In The Sand
                                                         One night I had a
                                                        dream. I was walking along
                                                      the beach with the Lord, and across
                                                    the skies flashed scenes from my life.In each
                                                  scene  I  noticed  two  sets of  footprints  in the
                                                sand.  One was  mine, and  one  was  the  Lord's.
                                              When   the   last   scene   of   my   life   appeared
                                               before  me,  I  looked   back  at   the  footprints
                                                in     the     sand,     and,     to    my    surprise,
                                                I noticed that many  times along the  path  of
                                                 my life there was only one set of footprints.
                                                 And    I    noticed    that    it    was    at
                                                  the    lowest    and    saddest   times
                                                   in  my  life.   I  asked  the   Lord
                                                    about   it:   "Lord,  you   said
                                                     that  once   I   decided   to
                                                      follow  you, you   would
                                                      walk with me all the way.
                                                       But I notice that  during
                                                       the   most  troublesome
                                                       times in my life there is
                                                      only one set of footprints.
                                                      I  don't  understand  why
                                                     you left my side when  I
                                                     needed  you  most."  The
                                                     Lord said: "My  precious
                                                     child, I never left you dur-
                                                     ing   your  time  of  trial.
                                                     Where  you  see  only
                                                      one set of footprints,
                                                        I  was  carrying
                                                              you."

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Embracing Holiday Grief

I had to face it, holidays would never be the same after my husband died. I soon realized that I was never going to share time with my loved one again. There would never be the traditional Christmas shopping together, putting up Christmas decorations, shopping around town for a real Christmas tree, or going to a Christmas party together. I was never going to see another smile from my loved one or hear him say "I love you". At times it felt that life would never be joyful again. And holidays seemed the worse because of so many joyous memories.

I had many other joyous moments in life. I remembered how joyous I felt when my children took their first steps, how excited and happy they were on Christmas morning. Then they went to their first day of school and they were no longer toddlers. I grieved to a certain point because I remembered the beautiful memories of them as babies, but knew that period of time was over and could never come back. But I'm still able to smile of those memorable moments.

Children grow up, get lives of their own. If we're blessed, we can still share time with them. We take what we can get and savor every moment. Life is different, but we live in the moment and make new memories. Are we going take advantage of the present, and find the joy? Or will we still live in the past and wish they were toddlers with excited faces on Christmas and feel sad that it could never be like that again? If we live in just the past, we'll never find joy in the present.  

Why not embrace the past and smile that we were fortunate to have wonderful memories. That's how I came to embrace the holidays through my grief. I had a wonderful man for many years. Yes, I was deeply sad that he died at a young age. It didn't seem fair. But I had to face it. He wasn't coming back. All I had were the memories. I embraced them. I remembered how he loved shopping for Christmas, wrapping presents, decorating, and parties. I recalled how much he loved his family. I now smile when I think of those bittersweet memories.

But I can also smile in the present when I see my adult children making good choices and having lives of their own. I smile when I can spend time with my 2 year old grandson and he tells me he wants Santa to bring him a bike for Christmas! It brings me joy to hear Christmas songs on the radio that I've loved since I was a child. This causes me to remember childhood memories that I can never live over, but embrace the past with a smile. Merry Christmas!!

Does this help put things in a different perspective for anyone?

Saturday, December 10, 2011

My 12 months (not days) of grieving

These were my first twelve months of grief:

First month: Shock
They told me Nelson died. But I didn't feel sad, angry, or anything. I actually felt joyful that my husband was in heaven and no longer in pain. Why were others so sad?

Second month: Denial
Nelson's presence was still close. There were many coincidences that proved my husband had not left. I denied my grief and was comforted by dreams that he was still with me.

Third month: Instant Gratification (Out of control!)
Drinking, eating, gambling, shopping, and traveling. Within a couple weeks, I was into a pattern of habits that I couldn't stop.
(excerpt from my book)

"If I stay as close to the Lord, like I am now," I confidently told my friend, Lynette, "then I'll never feel any grief from my husband's death." I stirred my Margarita then swigged down the last gulp.
"It doesn't work that way." Lynette adjusted her kitchen blinds to block out the early evening sun. "You're still in shock. But once you get back home, the pain will come."
"We'll see." I didn't want to argue. "I think I'll have one more drink before we go out to eat."

Forth month: Guilt (Coming out of the fog)
Why didn't I call the doctor sooner. Doesn't matter. My husband is not coming back. I'm the only parent. What was I modeling? How could I be so selfish and neglect my children?

Fifth month: PAIN (My broken heart!)
Unbearable and excruciating pain. A knife stabbing my heart. Relentless nights of weeping to God. As the pain released, I felt God's comfort. Only God's love could mend my broken heart. 

Sixth month: Depression (Letting go)
It was October, a change of season, and the holidays were approaching. I started cleaning out my husband's closets. I gave his favorite leather jacket to his best friend. I cried.

Seventh month: Disorientation (Past or present?)
Sometimes I wanted to go back. I wanted to cry and live in past memories. A familiar place. But my children lived in the present and my friends encouraged me to keep going forward.  

Eigth month: Revelation (Acceptance)
My first holiday season consisted of visiting numerous family and friends from all time periods of my life. This revealed that Nelson was not my entire past, only part of it.

Ninth month: Comforting moments
The pain came and went. Moments of joy between moments of pain. We made new memories over the holidays by allowing our family and friends to share our pain and fill us with love.

Tenth month: What do I do now? (My future?)
Should I move closer to my sister and parents? But professionals say, don't make any big changes for at least a year. I better wait a few more months. I just don't have a clue as to what to do.

Eleventh month: Finding fun and socializing
It was time to go out and dance again. It was time to meet new people. I needed to feel alive again.

Twelth month: Time to reminisce
I spent the anniversary of my husband's death with friends. We all went out and celebrated Nelson's life. We all shared our best stories of the best memories we had of this wonderful man!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Life goes on...Make the best of it

"If I kill myself, then I can be with Daddy forever," Jessica said.
I felt exactly the same...wanting to die.
"I understand how much you miss Daddy, but you can't kill yourself." I sadly looked my 7 year old's wishful face next to me.
She quietly stared ahead again as if in deep thought. "Well... what if someone else kills me? That would be a good idea."
Her attempt to scheme such an outlandish plot startled me.
"No," Nicole piped up from the back seat. "You can't do that either, because if you want to die and you make that happen, it's still a very bad sin."
My heart ached for Jessica, understanding her yearning to leave this world and go on to the next.

At 34 years old, in my first year of widowhood, it was hard to imagine, that I'd ever feel truly happy again. Life went on. One day at a time. It never stopped. Then one day I woke up and I didn't want to die anymore. I wanted to live. Life was never going to go back to the way it was. It was time to go forward. It was time to make something good out of something tragic. It was time to realize that it wasn't about me. Life became more about my children and about helping others.

As the years unfolded, we found our happy days again. I started college at the age of 37 to become a social worker. It took me another 13 years to complete my master's degree, but I did it. (See pictures) I also found another wonderful man to remarry 2 years ago. My children are happy and pursuing their own dreams. I'm pretty sure they don't want to die any time soon! I'm just as happy now than I ever was. And when I think of my first husband...I smile. He made me very happy during the 17 years that I knew him. I feel blessed that we had that time together.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Surviving the Holidays

Yes, they're coming! We can't hide, it's inevitable. The holidays are here!

Although my young children were grieving in their own ways, they looked forward to Christmas, presents, decorations, and celebrations. My oldest daughter was in second grade and my youngest was in kindergarten. This was the first year of holidays without their father. They participated in all their class activities for Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas that year. In their grief, these special days in school appeared to give them relief, joy, and laughter.

For me, in my first year of widowhood, I despised the holidays coming. I wasn't looking forward to any of them! The holidays were my husband's favorite time of year. He not only loved shopping but he did most of the wrapping and decorating. He was also the life of the parties! So I knew exactly what to expect. I'd be depressed while shopping, wrapping, decorating, and celebrating that year. I couldn't do it. Not even for my daughters. I'd have to plan something different. Somehow, I'd have to figure out, how to survive the holidays!

I decided that a trip would make the most sense. (If I had any sense that was!) For one thing, this would get me out of decorating the house. Planning a trip would also keep my mind busy to make sure things were done in a timely manner. I anticipated the joyful reunions ahead, knowing that I'd see family and friends that I hadn't seen in many years. This pulled me through the days I had to shop and wrap my daughters' gifts, to take with us.

As we pulled out of our FL driveway for a 4 week holiday road trip to NC, NJ, NY, PA, IL, MI, and SC, excitement went with us. Our first stop was Christmas in NC with my parents, sister, brother-in-law, and niece. Joy and pain coexisted that year for the holidays. But better to have both, than to suffer with pain the entire time. I know many people thought I was crazy to take this road trip not only in the winter, but we ended up driving through a northern blizzard that year. I didn't care what anyone thought, I trusted that God would protect us and only give us what we could handle!

Bottom line....we survived the holidays!!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Thanks for the Memories

Another year of holidays is upon us. I smile when I think of my loved one now. I remember there was a time in my life when I had no idea what grief even meant. At that time, we were a happy family of four. Thanksgiving meant celebration with either family or friends with food, drink, music and laughs.


In my first year of widowhood, I grieved not only for my loved one, but I grieved that I was certain that I'd never have joyful holidays again. My daughters were 6 and 7. It was now up to me to have some kind of holiday spirit for their sake. My parents came to stay with us for the first Thanksgiving. I didn’t feel thankful for much. I actually felt bad for my parents because I was not a joy to be around.


I knew that Christmas would be worse so I planned some traveling over the holiday break. It soothed my pain to a certain degree to see family and friends that I hadn’t seen in quite some time. I even went back to Piscataway, New Jersey, where I grew up and had lunch with my neighbors after many years. I began to feel that life was more than my married life and I was now making new memories. 


So year after year, the three of us made new memories. We continued taking trips when possible and drew joy from the love of family and friends. Holidays were not so painful anymore. There was pain AND joy! Much better than just pain!! Soon the pain lessened on those holidays. I began to remember them with a joyful heart. I can now think about past holidays when we were a young couple with 2 young children and smile. It was a good time.


But life now is good, too. I’m looking forward to celebrating Thanksgiving with my second husband, my parents, my mother-in-law, my 2 daughters, my step-daughter, my hopefully one day, son-in-law, and my grandbaby.  Although, we’ll be making new memories, we’ll never forget our prior memories. Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Top 10 Lessons I Learned from Grief

#10  I didn't care what anyone thought about how I grieved:
        Grief made me go crazy for a while. I was selfish and self-centered. Thankfully, my family and friends supported me through and took care of my children until I came to my senses.

#9  I prayed:
      I soon realized that I couldn't do it on my own. I needed God's help. (Sounds like a 12 step program!)In my prayers, I not only talked to God, but I learned how to listen to Him and heed His advice.

#8 I had to rethink my priorities:
     Grief taught me what was most important in my life. God became my number one priority. I then treasured my family and relationships that I still had here. My two daughters were my main concern.

#7 Time doesn't heal all wounds:
     It's not about time. There are people who are still living in grief 17 yrs. later. Unless you do the grief work, with God's help, you'll continue to grieve. God is our healer who helps to heal our wounds.

#6  My loved one was only part of my life, not my whole life:
      Traveling to visit family and friends brought me my first moments of joy. Many I knew before I even knew my loved one. I realized there was a lot more to my life than just my married life.

#5  Joy and pain coexist:
      As I found myself feeling more joyful, a special day would bring back the pain. A birthday, a holiday, an anniversary day, my daughters' dance recitals, my daughters' graduations. It's OK. The pain makes me remember the beautiful memories.

#4  God uses suffering for good to help us grow:
      God has used me as a witness to bring others to Christ through my grief.
"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." (Romans 8:28)

#3  Life is temporary here:
      Some day, I will lose another loved one. I will grieve again. But I have faith that my eternal home will be in Heaven. It will be a permanent place to reunite with my loved ones that have gone before.

#2  God is in control:
      I've surrendered my life over. God's in control of everything anyway. There's no "What ifs...?" My life and everyone else's life is in His hands. I trust He knows best. He'll always have the last word!

And the #1 lesson I've learned from grief is:

# 1  It's time to serve others and pass on the comfort that I received:
"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God." (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)

Are there more lessons anyone wants to add??
   

Saturday, November 5, 2011

A Unique Journey Through Grief

I've been widowed and you may have been widowed. But my journey will be different than your journey. There are similarities we can talk about....the empty chair at the dinner table, lonely nights and weekends, holidays and anniversaries, becoming head of the household and making ALL the decisions, and of course...what to do with my life now!?

Grief is kind of like figuring out how to get from one place to another. Say, from the East Coast to the West Coast. The most logical way would be to fly or drive and find a straight route to get there as quick as possible. But for everyone that makes the trip, no two trips will be exactly the same. Some people will take different routes, stay at different motels, eat at different restaurants along the way. Then some may never make it across at all. They'll get lost on their journey and end up somewhere they don't want to be. These are all variations of grief journeys.

So how did our family celebrate the first year of holidays without daddy? My daughters and I took a 4 week road trip to visit family and friends within 7 states. Reuniting with loved ones gave us joy that softened our pain. As I hear others tell their stories, I heard as many variations as there were widows. Each one had a different and unique way of getting through the holidays. Such is the life of grief!!

So what do we see when we reach our destination? Hopefully, if we completed our grief successfully, we will have reaped what we sowed and know we made a purposefilled journey. Life is good again and joy returns!

What's something that makes your grief so unique?

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Widow's Guilt.....What if??

What if... I had called the doctor like he asked?

"Cindy, can you call the doctor and see if he can get me in tomorrow morning before I leave for my business trip?" my husband asked. "I'm not feeling well. I'm starting to get a bad cold and cough. Maybe he can give me something before I get too sick."
I agreed I would call. It was February. We lived in sunny, warm, Florida at the time, however, his trip was in Pennsylvania and the weather would be very cold that time of year.

I remembered to make my hair appt. for the following day. But, I felt terrible that evening when my husband asked if I had made the doctor's appt. Oh, oh!! I had totally forgotten!!

So the next day, off to frigid PA he flew. His cold and cough got worse. He suffered for a week until he came home. I had suggested he see a doctor in PA, but he decided to wait. By the time he got back, he was very sick. He was allergic to some of the meds the doctor prescribed and he continued to get worse. By the beginning of April he was in the hospital with pnuemonia. He never pulled through and died on April 13th.

What if I had called the doctor the day he asked me to? What if he got some meds before his trip? Would he have lived??

Well if you believe what God says in the Bible, I don't think he would have lived a day longer. In Psalm 139:16 it states, "All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be."

I have erased all guilt. I have let go because I had no control over what was meant to happen.  Can you erase yours? Do you think you had control over what happened to your loved one?

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Widow's Change of Season

Summer is over. No more trips to the beach. No more sunbathing by the pool. No more ice-cold smoothies on a hot afternoon. Why does it have to end? Sound like something else in your life?

Your spouse dies and your marriage is over. No more vacations together. No more mornings drinking coffee together. No more planning for the future together. Why did it have to end??

Seasons change. We go from summer to fall to winter to spring. My life went from single, to married, to widowed, to remarried.

When I think of the 4 seasons in a year, I can find joy and happiness in each one. I can also find some miserable things in each season as well. Think about it. Summer fun, is about the warm sunshine, trips, beaches and pools. It also has bugs, humidity, and unbearable heat at times. Fall is the beautiful time of year when the leaves turn so colorful but at the same time allergies can be dreadful. Winter can be a festive time with parties and Christmas but it can also have some terrible weather conditions that make driving hazardous! You get the point.

So when I think back about the seasons of my life, (single, married, widowed, and remarried) I can draw joy and heartache from each one. When I was married the first time, there were hard times but the joyful times were more abundent. When I became widowed, it was a sudden change. I didn't like it one bit. As time moved on, I began to find happiness in my widowhood. It wasn't the choice I would have choosen, but since I couldn't do anything about it, I might as well find the joy. I did. I made new goals and plans for myself. The sun eventually came out again and a new summer returned.

So when one season ends, and another begins, grieve for what you no longer have. Grieve for the season that's over. Once you get through your grief, breathe in your new season and look for the joy. It'll be there!  

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Picking up the Pieces

Does it feel as if your life is a jig saw puzzle? Life was pretty much together, and then all of a sudden....you're widowed! Your life falls to pieces.... And not like it's a 25 piece puzzle, it's more like 1,000 pieces!!

After the shock wears off, you look around. You have to put your life back together like a jig saw puzzle but have no idea where to start. You don't have a clue what it's going to look like when you're done. At first, maybe you just let the pieces lay where they are for awhile. I sometimes find it easy to procrastinate when a big project looms ahead. Then one day, you have enough energy to turn all the pieces over and spread them out. So what's my plan? I believe that God has a plan for me and He knows what the finished masterpiece will look like. For He promises us in Jeremiah 29:11 "For I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord, plans for you to prosper, not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."

So I begin...I start by doing the frame first. Once I get going, I build some momentum. Once I finish the frame, I feel as if I accomplished something big. Good feeling! Next, I find a prominent color that stands out but I make sure there's not too many of the same color...like blue! I definitely don't start with the BLUE sky and ocean! I want to make some quick progess so I start with some bright reds. I'm able to put them together and make a rose garden. Though it isn't connected to the frame yet, I still get another reward of accomplishment. Soon, I'm able to connect the inside pictures to the frame. At the end, I tackle the blue sky. Because I've had so many small goals already completed, I have the stamina to go the rest of the distance and finish it. And when I do, it is so amazingly beautiful!

Because God has made each of us unique, your's will be a different picture, but just as beautiful! And you will probably go about putting your life puzzle back together in a different way than I did. We may have similar styles, but it won't be exactly the same. The same is true of our grief. Our journeys will all be similar yet different. And the finished masterpiece will each be one of a kind!

(And instead of struggling on your own....have a friend help you...especially with the blue sky!!!)

Saturday, October 8, 2011

GRIEF- A Widow's After Shock

I like to use analogies. To me, grief was the after shock of suddenly becoming a widow. First there's the "Earthquake" in your life. Your spouse dies and your whole world is shaken and broken apart. Nothing is ever the same. Everything is out of place. Grief is the suffering caused by loss. Like an earthquake, it's not like "one" thing is out of place. Your whole life is shifted and changed. So when we grieve the loss of our spouse, we are also grieving for other losses...he may have been our best friend, lover, and companion. We may have to move, change jobs and/or careers. It's like an earthquake that destroys a town. We have to pick up the pieces and start from scratch!

After the dust settles, we see what we're left with. We begin to look within ourselves to see what we can salvage. At first, it seems very dismal with little hope. As we begin to ask for God's help, He shows us that we can rebuild. Not only can we rebuild, but with His guidance, we can build a stronger foundation. We come to realize where our strength comes from!

Can you tell when it's God that's helping you to pick up the pieces? How do you know?

Saturday, October 1, 2011

TGIM

Thank God It's Monday!
Yes, I'm writing this on a Saturday but I imagine many widows are wishing it was Monday. I hated Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays! Fridays were the day that the week ended and your spouse would be home for the weekend. It WAS a happy part of the week. For a while, it IS the worse. I tried to have things planned for the weekend with family or friends. In the beginning I suffered through those Friday nights and weekends. And with a lot of help from my friends I made it through. One weekend at a time. As weeks turn into months, you take on a different routine for your weekends. I traveled a lot in my first year, which helped to break up the days of the weeks. Whatever it took sometimes to get through and have a sigh of relief when Monday came!

If you're a widow or know a widow, what are some other ways to get through lonely weekends in the first weeks, months, or year??

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Time to Give Back

For many of the first years of my widowhood, I was a taker. My friends that I had at that time, (and you know who I'm talking about) were my "life support" system. They essentially kept me alive. They nurtured me until I was strong enough to walk on my own. They were the foundation of my grief journey and they each hold a special place in my heart. If it weren't for these friends that I took from, my journey would have taken a different course. Yes, I was very selfish at times, only thinking of ME, taking my friends' time from their families so that I could have their time to get through one more day. I could never repay these friends for all their generosity and compassion, but I am now in a position where I can help others. I will pay it forward. I thank God for these friends that were such a blessing in my time of grief!!